Article author: Monica Chavez
TELFest North West
TELFest North West is an initiative inspired byTELFest at the University of Sheffield and is organised by a group of highly enthusiastic people in the North West of England from different institutions who share a love for educational technology. The first TELFest NW was on the 17th of December 2019 at the University of Liverpool, attracting 60 delegates from 27 institutions based in the North West of England.
Not just another conference
When we set out to plan for the event at the beginning of last year, the TELFest NW team agreed that the spirit of this event would be fun and away from traditional conferencing. It is very important to us to keep it community based, free, fun, and diverse in terms of the committee members, the programme and the presenters. The day was fast-paced and informal with three Digital Education Champions talks by Farzana Latif (practice theme), Dale Munday (innovation theme) and Pete Atherton (vision theme), 2 toolbox sessions and 10 lightning talks. We also banned the typical 20 minutes death by PowerPoint presentation and encouraged presenters to display their tech savvy skills and try different formats to deliver their presentation. We were particularly impressed by the University of Leeds Sean Gledhill’s dynamic presentation. Sean showed us one great way to move away from death by PowerPoint.
A huge thank you to our sponsor PebblePad who introduced us to new possibilities for teaching, learning and assessment with their e-portfolio tool.
Community first, technology second
In the face of increasing interactions on social media and virtual platforms for work and collaboration, it seemed essential to create a face to-face community in the North West of England to remind learning technologists, educational developers, academics and tech enthusiasts that no matter what the new flavour of the month is, there is no such thing as virtual trust and that face-to-face events to attend, share and network are still crucial for the exchange of scholarship and innovation. As explained by Simon Sinek in his book ‘Leaders Eat Last’, when people rely heavily on online tools for interaction, the relationships we form may seem real but what they really are is an abstraction of people based on the manipulation of neurochemicals like serotonin and oxytocin. Because we are social animals who from the evolutionary point of view have had to learn to read people and make decisions about them in order to progress, the real connection with peers can only happen face-to-face.
Fun and free
A community of practice can have different levels of formality and engagement. Our team was determined to create a space for colleagues to come together and have honest conversations and share stories in a safe environment. With reduced continuing professional development (CPD) budgets and conferences taking place away from home, we created a more local, more relaxed option for people to travel to and go back home at the end of the day. The bottom line of TELFest NW is to create value for people in an event in which innovation and best practice is shared, starting from the informal language used in our communications to the 3 rules for presenting at TELFest NW: 1.Wow us, 2. Keep on time, 3. Be yourself.
In her last 2019 blog post, Maren Deepwell summarises her efforts to reduce gender inequality in learning technology and reflects briefly on how to challenge the status quo to put an end to ‘manels’ (men only panels). The TELFest NW team embraces this vision of a fairer landscape for learning technologists in which becoming conscious of male-dominated conferences, events, panels or committees should be the starting point of one’s participation or involvement in any initiative. Our team makes a conscious choice to include women and people from diverse backgrounds in the organisation of the event and to have a balanced programme of male and female presenters. In last year’s TELFest NW 9 out 16 presenters were women, a good indicator of our commitment to enlist men as allies for gender equality in learning technology.
This year TELFest NW will deliver an event following the spirit of last year’s event. We hope you can make it on Tuesday 15th of December 2020 at the University of Liverpool to celebrate the uniqueness of your role in educational technology. The themes of our next events are Digital Wellbeing, Inclusivity in TEL, and The Fail Zone. Register your interest to attend or present here.
Gabi Witthaus is a consultant at Art of E-learning. She is doing her PhD on online engagement of refugees and asylum seekers in HE. She also works in the College of Arts & Law Digital Education Team at the University of Birmingham. Twitter: @twitthaus Blog: https://www.artofelearning.org .
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